The killer was working a college campus, a small high end school focused on social sciences and the arts. There were four victims, each a different ethnicity, majors, living on and off campus, different hobbies, one was a functional alcoholic while another was a teetotaler, even their online lives didn't intersect, the only obvious similarity was their ages but that was all.
Until Norman Jayden took a long hard look at their files.
The local P.D. and consulting BAU team had hit a brick wall until the lead agent recalled the ARI special project and a talented participant, Norman Jayden. Calls were made and four files landed on Jayden's desk.
"Don't fuck this up Jayden this is a tight one you do it right we all look good, the program looks good and we get more funding."
"Yeah? I thought the point was to get the perp…sir."
"Just do your job Jayden."
The first victim, a twenty-three year old female Army veteran, went from the sands of Aghanistan to the halls of higher learning, studied sociology and criminal justice. Single, no kids, parents retired living out of state, one cat, rented an apartment off campus paid her rent in cash and odd jobs for the on-site elderly land lady.
Second victim, twenty-two year old male straight from high school, worked a work-study gig at the student union and tutored privately, studying graphic design, lived on campus in the dorms. No kids, a grieving boyfriend and in-state parents demanding answers and updates.
Victim three, a twenty year old female, lived with her parents, working toward a certificate in social work, part time student full time caretaker at a school-affiliated day care, her parents were devastated, her three older brothers out for blood.
The so-far final victim, a twenty-four year old married father of three, worked as an assistant for the head of the psychology department oversaw three grad students and two work study undergraduates.
All had been kidnapped, held for two days, then gutted and left in abandoned public spaces, COD was exsanguination and exposure, mercifully or wisely the killer had doped them into numb unconsciousness so they couldn't resist, call for help, or escape.
There had been exactly one murder a week, the victims were taken on a Monday and discovered by that Friday.
Jayden scanned the files into ARI then stood and stretched, slipped on the glove and set the glasses on blinked and entered ARI's world.
"ARI crawl the college servers and local geography I want every social event and gathering on Monday nights between 1500 and 2400, organize by location and interest, highlight anything relating to the victims."
"ARI apply for a digital warrant, permission to access and trace social network contacts and interactions including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Deviantart, myspace, youtube, and similar."
He glanced at the status of the search, noted it was 5% in, moved the status of the warrant request to background chatter setting it to alert when the warrant was approved and the search started.
"ARI display biographical information for victim one, allow interaction."
A timeline of the first victim's life based on public records and police reports rippled across his field of vision stretching from left to right with the victim's death and an entry regarding memorial and funeral plans ending it. Jayden glanced at the pulsing entry noted the victim was to be honored at a memorial service cum solidarity ritual planned for two nights hence at the college.
"ARI book a flight and rental car, we're going back to school." Jayden grunted.
He dragged the timeline back to its first entry and began to read.
"The same home town?"
"No the same birth place and attending physician."
"Each of the victims was born in the same town attended by the same physician."
"One of them was forty years old so we're looking for a sixty or seventy year old killer?"
"Or someone linked to the hospital and the physician."
"What does ARI say?"
"Nothing, ARI locates and collates I interpret."
"You're going to the crime scenes?"
"And the memorial."
"Mind your Ps and Qs the wrong step could start a riot."
"I know you will I'm assigning Davis as your minder."
"You're going to miss your flight."
The town was neat and clean and cramped and to Jayden's senses wreaking of secrets and hot to the touch with tension.
"So you think the killer has something to do with that little town in Washington and this Dr. Harris?"
"It's the only link ARI could find, that and two are using the same funeral home."
"The other two?"
"Don't know. None have been released by the M. E. yet anyway."
"Look Jayden I know you resent my presence, that's fine, you're the investigator I'm the P.R. expert. You do your job I'll back you up and keep the press off your ass and the Bureau's name out of the mud okay?"
He felt himself smiling at her confidence and assurance.
"I don't mind you Davis I mind the bosses' attitude toward this, they're more concerned with the ARI program's reputation and funding than they are about the victim's families or catching this sick fuck."
"That's their job Jayden, they trust you to keep the families and the pursuit in mind."
"Jesus you spin everything don't you?"
The college was old for a west coast institution, founded before the end of the 19th century it had been an exclusive private institution until mismanagement had nearly run it into the ground. It had gone public and clawed its way back to relevance until it was now a preferred institution with a track record of exemplary graduates. Bower College was a solid school that any student or parent would be proud to have on a diploma. Until now at least.
"Local P.D. are out of their depth, they're running support roles, crowd control, data gathering, verifying alibis that kind of thing the heavy lifting was being done by the BAU team assigned from Quantico but now that we're here –"
"I just run facts and trace leads Davis I'm not an investigative team."
"I thought ARI was supposed to be?"
"Fuck you, ARI is a tool, a fine one but still a tool sh-it still needs a person to tell it what to do."
"She? Jesus Jayden."
The department was a hive of activity a squat brick structure that reminded Jayden of a firehouse though it was only one story. Uniformed officers scurried in and out a handful of dour men and women in suits and jackets, cigarettes dangling from most lips crowded the main bull pen and filed out of offices, crowded hallways, pushed past reporters and ignored requests for updates.
"This place is a zoo." Davis sighed.
The BAU team had taken over the largest available conference room. Whiteboards and corkboards filled the walls, the desk was piled with paperwork, crime scene photos and take out boxes. Jayden glanced over it all, ARI glasses on, recording and analyzing as he looked. What appeared to be chaos was actually pretty well organized. As he and Davis entered a harried looking agent dressed in suit pants and a white shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, suit jacket MIA rose and regarded them with a mixture of territorial hostility and bleak hope.
"Norman Jayden." Jayden said and offered the man his hand.
"You the ARI guy?"
Jayden sighed and removed his glasses.
"Hey Sam the guy is here."
Another agent entered from an adjoining office.
"Samantha Freely, Agent Jayden?"
"Yeah good to meet you-"
"That was fine work you did on the birth records. We've managed to gain access to the hospital's records. There are sixteen students and employees born in that town only four whose mothers were attended by Harris. Harris is dead, died ten years ago, sudden massive coronary. No kids, he was divorced years before."
"Any other family?"
"Nothing on record."
Jayden knew all that had done the research himself seconds after connecting Harris and the hospital to the victims, had, in fact, forwarded the data to the onsite team.
"Pull 'em in, lock 'em down, get one of 'em to volunteer as bait nail the sick fuck." Jayden grunted.
"Whoa hold on Jayden –"
"Tried it." The haggard and still nameless agent interrupted.
"All but one of the potential victims left town immediately the last refuses to help or accept protection from us. We aren't on active protection but we're surveilling him."
"Think he's the killer?" Davis asked idly flipping through a stack of crime scene photos. The haggard agent moved toward her apparently worried she would screw up his system.
"Alfred Frhanakian. Call me Al."
"Al, let's go through your suspect list again, okay?" Jayden said and pulled the ARI glasses from his pocket and walked toward a projector piled with papers. The other three agents watched as Jayden cleared the papers aside and set the projector up then put the glasses on spoke a few commands and set them in front of the projector.
"Victim one, Sarah Wallace, army veteran, combat veteran, certainly capable of defending herself if she were expecting trouble. She disappeared after an evening class on a Monday, her butchered corpse was found that Friday, M.E. estimates she died late Thursday night. The body wasn't bound or moved after the fatal attack. Paralytics and sedatives were found in her system. No defensive wounds, she hadn't eaten since her capture though the M.E. found the remnants of an electrolytic sports drink in her stomach." He turned to the other agents.
"He drugged her or tricked her to get her to come with him then drugged and immobilized her, kept her drugged and starved her but wanted her alive so he kept her fluids up." Sam sighed.
"She knew him or he didn't appear to be a threat. She was a combat vet she would be confident when approaching a stranger but also cautious and aware. This guy didn't set off her alarms, she trusted him enough to let him get close."
"Were there any needle marks or signs of injections on her body?" Davis asked.
"No but enough time had passed that unless the injection had bruised her it might have healed."
"Okay so either the killer was good at giving injections or he drugged her food or drink."
"Victim two –"
"This is a waste of time!" Al snarled rising to his feet.
Jayden regarded him coldly.
"Is it? As far as we can tell we have removed and isolated his victim pool. Whoever it is has only one choice now unless he radically changes his M. O. so we need to understand his M. O. and motivation in case he does just that. Since we have limited or deprived him of his preferred prey we need to anticipate his reaction if he doesn't strike at our bait out of desperation he may simply move to another locale and resume the hunt or change his targets altogether."
"Victim two." He said after the haggard agent dropped his gaze.
"So, in conclusion the killer is approachable and has enough social skills to put someone like victim one at ease but is also able to engage shy introverts like victim three."
"Why do you number them?" Davis asked sharply.
Jayden blinked tiredly at her.
"We also know that his motives are murky his targets are highly specific and his self control remarkable. Most killers escalate and de evolve at a remarkable rate, this killer has carefully timed his kills and kept to his own schedule. The likelihood of his kills changing to less specific targets is unknown."
"Why. Do. You. Number. Them?" Davis snapped.
Jayden scrubbed his face and gestured for him to follow him. He lead her into the adjoining office and closed the door.
"You're the P.R. expert, stick to P.R. –"
"And if you slip in front of the press or a member of the public and refer to Sarah or one of the others as victim number fill in the blank we are all screwed. You have no idea the firestorm the wrong reporter can create from that."
"So stop them –"
"I am, right now, you call them by their names or refer to them as a group you do not ever call a single victim by a number."
"What do you know about my job?"
"You're a BAU profiler on loan to special projects working with the ARI program."
"Great. So what does that mean?" He demanded. She remained silent.
"I spend hours wading through crime scene photos, survivor statements, and witness testimonies. I am elbow deep in blood and pain on a daily basis. So I'm an abrasive dick to people I meet, I keep the victims as anonymous as I can, I don't have any friends and what little family I have haven't spoken to me in years. I am like this for a reason. See for a while there, every time I met someone I started to see them as murderers or victims. Every single person, a lover, a neighbor, my fucking land lord, in order to do my job I've made certain sacrifices and I do my job well, check my record, and never question me or my methods again."
"You're a liability Jayden."
"Why the fuck do you think they sent you here?" He asked with a cold smile and pulled away from her grip on his arm.
"Where are you going?"
"To join the surveillance team. Until we get more information our best our best chance to stop this sick fuck is to catch him going after the only target he has left."
"If he doesn't take the bait?"
"So lemme get this straight this guy is told he's on a psycho killer's hit list, he's offered protection and not only does he stay in town but he refuses protection?" The cop said, he adjusted his seat and Jayden caught a glimpse of his nametag in the ambient light of the streetlight, Andrews.
"What can I say takes all kinds to make the world go round. Whaddaya think Agent?"
The two cops were parked across the street from the target's house in a cruiser. Jayden sat in the back seat only half listening as he used ARI to review the case.
"Denial, acute and severe or he thinks he's safe for some reason." Jayden said absently.
"Safe? Like he knows the killer won't go after him right?"
"Well how the fuck does that work?" The older cop sitting behind the wheel asked.
"Good question." Jayden muttered and brought up their bait's information.
Jason Powers, twenty-two, worked as a landscaper at the school, made good money. Had a degree in horticulture and sometimes assisted the school's gardener in more technical tasks. Unmarried, no known children, no apparent romantic partners, he had two dogs and a cat a large well-kept yard and seemed to be liked by his neighbors.
"Not much information on him." Jayden grunted.
"So this high tech vr thing is how you figured out the hospital thing?"
"How did you find out about that?" Jayden asked with a frown.
"Stations like a sieve agent nothin' stays in." Andrews said yawning.
Jayden made a note in ARI that sent a memo to all agents on the case in the field and back at Quantico to lock down on all pertinent information. Evidently the usual security steps weren't enough. He brought up Powers' file again.
"ARI deep background highlight crossover with current investigation victims and related, red to yellow."
"Red to yellow?" The older cop asked. Jayden wished he had bothered to program a keyboard or something similar into the glove interface GUI for silent commands, made a mental note to do so.
"Priority, Red, Orange, Yellow."
"Right so you find anything on this mook?"
"Underused word agent." The young cop replied with a gleam in his eye. Jayden felt himself blush and was grateful for the dark interior of the cruiser. He turned his attention back to the data, ignoring the cop and his reaction to him.
ARI threw up two blocks of text, one red and one yellow. The red block read:
Attended grammar school with Victims one and two until fourth grade.
Employed by school six months after victim four.
Jayden frowned at the data.
So the three had been classmates as children and once Jason was hired on they may have encountered each other on campus. Jayden had a sneaking suspicion that the reason Jason was safe from the killer was because he was the killer.
"ARI, locate victim pool, specifically those that refused protection and left the jurisdiction."
ARI processed and Jayden took off the glasses and slipped them into his coat.
"Taking a walk Agent?" Andrews asked.
"Going to have a conversation."
"We'll have to call it in." The older cop grunted as though resenting the effort required to make one radio call.
"That's fine officers." Jayden said absently as exited the car.
Powers lived in a one story ranch house with clean white siding. A large parcel of land, half again as large as his neighbors, filled with flower gardens out front, a narrow concrete path lead to the front door. Jayden glimpsed tall evergreens behind the house. A colored glass mosaic hung on the Powers' door as Jayden reached up to knock he noticed a peephole behind the glass, anyone looking through it would see a peach colored world.
Jayden rapped hard on the door twice. He saw something dark pass by the peephole and a few seconds later a chain rattling in the door and the door creaked open.
"You got a chain on your door? In this neighborhood?" Jayden laughed.
"Can't be too careful, who are you and why are you knocking on my door in the middle of the night?" Powers said mildly not quite making eye contact.
"I'm Federal Agent Norman Jayden I'm assisting the police –"
"Not interested Agent." Powers snapped and started to close the door.
"You like plants more than people right? I can get behind that. In my line of work pretty much everyone I meet lies to me or turns out to be a murderer. The rest are dead people and bureaucrats."
"That's tough for you –"
"What about you Jason? You spend a lot of time with flowers and plants at work but you have to deal with people too right?"
The door creaked open slightly.
"Come on Jason I just want to talk, give me a few minutes and then I'll leave and you'll never see me again. Otherwise I'll get a material witness warrant and bring you in and we can spend a few hours under hot lights getting nowhere. What do you think?" Jayden asked.
"O..okay, I guess." Powers said finally and opened the door.
The interior looked like it had been decorated by a fastidious woman thirty years ago and locked in time. Doilies, outdated prints, the color scheme was an eyesore that had been the height of fashion for thirty seconds in the late 70s. Jayden glanced at Powers.
"They hmm they died I inherited it." Powers grunted nervously.
"Ah I'm sorry to hear that, it must've been tough. Did, did you grow up here?" Jayden asked slipping past Powers and further into the stagnant home.
Powers shook his head and retreated from Jayden toward a couch that looked older than Jayden.
"You just seem so at home here." Jayden pressed.
"I don't see how these questions can help your investigation agent."
"Well y'never know Jason, can I call you Jason? The tiniest bit of information can be invaluable later." Jayden said drifting out of the living area and into an adjoining kitchen. It was immaculately clean but again frozen in time, even the appliances – high end when new – were vintage.
"No, no I –" Powers protested chasing after Jayden with nervous short steps.
"So you didn't grow up here but your folks lived here for a long time right? So you lived somewhere else?"
"I lived with my grandparents until I was a teenager I really think –
"Grandparents? That must be nice, never had much family myself, I did have some good friends though, did you have friends in school Jason? Girlfriend, boyfriend? " Jayden asked idly poking through the kitchen cabinets, he was vaguely surprised to see actual edible food purchased recently lining the shelves. He had half expected to find still sealed bottles, cans, and boxes of products long since discontinued lining the shelves and filling the cabinets.
"I …I had friends." Powers said a heavy sweat glistening on his skin.
"Is it hot in here?" Jayden asked still prowling the house with a flustered Powers trailing him.
"See I don't know if they told you but the people that have been killed lately, you know the ones at the college?"
"They weren't at the college they were off campus." Powers said stiffly eyes darting away from Jayden.
"That's right they were, see they were all born in the same town at the same hospital within just a couple years of each other and you Jason, you were born there too. So we're worried about you wanna keep you safe, but I think you might know more than you think you do."
"What?" Powers asked backing away from Jayden and glancing up for a microsecond before lowering his gaze to the floor again.
"You're a potential victim it's possible you know something about the killer or his motives without realizing it. Why did you refuse protection and stay in town Jason?"
"I have work in the morning agent you should go." Powers muttered still staring at his feet.
"Okay Jason but I'm gonna leave you my card you think of anything or get into trouble you call me okay?" Jayden said and set his card on an end table next to the couch and let himself out.
"What's your verdict?" The young officer asked as Jayden got back in.
"Don't let that fuck outta your sight officer if he ain't the killer he has a good idea of who is." Jayden said grimly and reached for the ARI glasses.
He entered ARI and brought up the listing of potential victims. All had gone out of state to stay with family, friends, or rent rooms in hotels. Jayden sent a request asking for local agents to visit each victim and again offer protection.
"So that little weasel is butchering these people?"
"He might have a partner he could even be innocent of the crimes but he absolutely knows more than he's letting on."
"Don't worry agent we'll keep an eye on him." Andrews said with a grin. Jayden grunted and reached for his cell phone, he had to get back to the station.
"Making friends I see." Davis said glancing over Jayden's shoulder at the young officer who had accompanied him back to the station on some pretext of filing an early shift change report. Jayden glowered at her.
"Powers is now our prime suspect, we have to focus on him if he isn't the killer then he knows the son of a bitch."
"And him?" Davis asked and nodded Andrews. Jayden set his jaw and jerked his head in a dismissive gesture at Davis. She turned on her heel and returned to the conference room. Jayden nodded at Andrews and left the main bull pen then entered a deserted hallway Andrews in tow.
"What's your name?"
"Matt, listen to me I'm here to work I don't know what you have in mind but it's not happening, I have a job to do nothing else matters."
"I resent what you're implying –" Andrews hissed face reddening.
"I don't give a fuck about you or your feelings, all I care about is nailing the bastard gutting your citizens Matt."
"Understood Agent Jayden." He said sharply, cheeks blushing slightly bright blue eyes flashing.
Jayden returned to the conference room sparing a cold glance for Davis who wisely kept her mouth shut.
"What did you find?" Al asked.
"Powers is involved, his affect was evasive, pathologically, he absolutely has a personality disorder probably stemming from abuse as a child. He's scared either of us or the killer."
"What now? We have cops waiting on him."
"Deep background, I've asked for the potential victims to be brought into custody –by force if necessary. We need to force Powers or the killer to make a mistake."
"You're assuming Powers isn't the killer." Agent Freely objected.
"No, he's our best suspect at this point but I don't think he's the doer. His social skills are severely limited. He would have to blitz the victims to gain control and there was no sign of a blitz assault on any of the bodies"
"Okay so we're looking for a dominant charismatic person, someone Powers is afraid of or enamored by." Davis grunted.
"Like who?" Freely asked.
"An old friend or hero, someone who protected him or took an interest in him when he was younger." Al supplied.
"Agent Jayden I think you'd better get started on that deep background, I'll see if the elementary school the victims and Powers attended still has any physical records." Freely said.
"Right, ARI can only use digital records, Al see if the school has any records or comments not entered into their database, re-interview professors, roommates, so on. See if they know Powers or remember him interacting with any of the victims." Jayden said reaching for the ARI glasses and leaving the conference room for the adjoining office, he kicked the door closed with his heel and sat at the empty desk.
"Jayden." Freely said as she entered and closed the door behind her.
"I'm working Freely."
"Ha ha asshole take off those damn glasses."
Jayden slowly removed the ARI glasses though he kept the glove on and frowned at Freely.
"What did you say to that officer?"
"I told him to back off focus on the case."
"He's spreading a rumor that you hit on him and he shot you down."
"And I care why?"
"Because you're pissing in their pool Jayden, look Davis is handling it - I guess she's your handler? – the point is watch your ass. There's only four of us here and half of us are stuck chasing paperwork and witnesses. If you go into the field you're going to have to rely on these officers for back up and if you piss them off or make them look stupid you could be risking more than a bad report."
"Thanks for the heads up Freely, I'm fine –"
"Just… fine you've been warned. And eat something before you go back out, you've been here for almost twelve hours and I haven't seen you have anything but black coffee."
He grunted and put the glasses back on. Freely waited a few seconds and then left.
Jayden was deep in ARI hunting down tenuous links and running dozens of simultaneous searches, discarding dead ends and tying together coincidences. He lost track of time until the ache in his back and the ache in his bladder could no longer be ignored. He stood, removed the glasses and stretched feeling his back pop, slipped the glasses into his jacket pocket and opened the office door. Davis was half sprawled on the table face pressed to an open file Jayden thought about waking her then saw it was almost five o'clock, he wasn't sure if that was AM or PM, he ignored Davis and walked toward the men's room off the bullpen massaging his neck as he walked. Judging by the nearly empty room – one detective on the phone another plain clothes typing on a computer – it was probably five AM.
He was halfway through a well earned piss when his new nemesis entered and took a stance at the urinal next to him.
"Jesus fucking Christ, seriously? You need to back the fuck up and move over officer." Jayden snarled.
"What is your problem Agent?" Andrews growled and stepped away from the urinal.
Jayden ignored him, finished his business and walked to the sink.
"I'm just trying to take a piss here." Andrews complained with a sneer, he had his pants unzipped, cock on display.
Jayden made a disgusted noise and said, "You don't get it do you? I'm not interested in you, at all. Period. And frankly I find it really fucking disturbing that you're busy fucking with me when a sadistic animal is busy taking people apart on your watch."
"Look at you all worked up." He hissed moving closer to Jayden.
"Andrews, Mathew Andrews." He snapped tone suddenly cold.
"This can't end well for either of us, if you come at me I'll defend myself and I'll make sure your superiors know why I had to."
"I did some research on you Agent Jayden, I know your reputation. When it comes down to it your bosses are gonna be hard pressed to dismiss any complaint I lodge. I have a perfect record, yours, on the other hand is a fucking mess. It doesn't hurt that I have four inches and twenty pounds on you either."
"Don't do this –"
Andrews moved for him, Jayden lashed out with a stiff arm but Andrews slithered around the movement, slipped inside Jayden's guard and pinned him to the sink, leg between Jayden's legs, thigh and knee pressing against his crotch just hard enough to be painful, Jayden's back and hips to the sink and mirror, Andrews' forearm pressed to Jayden's throat forcing him back so his shoulders and head pressed to the mirror. Off balance, pumping adrenaline but effectively helpless Jayden glared at Andrews.
"Check mate." Andrews whispered. His breath smelled of coffee and bourbon. Jayden could see the bulge in the younger man's uniform pants, smell the sweat and natural scent of the man.
"Not so shy now." Andrews whispered.
"Shift change is in half an hour Andrews, how are you going to explain this when your buddies walk in?"
Andrews moved fast slapping Jayden on the side of the head cupped hand over his left ear the pain of the impact and trauma to his ear stunned him. Andrews hauled him away from the mirror and sink and dragged him into a nearby handicapped stall, shot the bolt on the lock and pinned Jayden's back to the door.
Jayden fought through the pain and ringing in his ear and head.
"So…you're gonna rape me?" He asked Andrews, breath labored and head swimming.
"I don't think I'll have to." Andrews whispered in Jayden's ear, voice hoarse and raw, forearm pressed to Jayden's throat free hand pressed to the Agent's crotch.
"Listen to me Andrews, I don't know what's going on in your life, I don't know why you're drinking on duty but this is the biggest mistake of your life. You've already assaulted a federal agent. I am not giving you permission to do this –"
"Your body is." Andrews hissed and forced his hand past Jayden's belt, the cop's cold rough hand on Jayden's cock stole the agent's breath away for a moment.
"Listen to me Matt, I don't want this, I'm telling you no. Do you want to be charged with the assault and attempted rape of a male FBI agent? You said it yourself I don't have a good record; I don't give a fuck what people say about me. The fag that cried rape? Don't care but what about your reputation? Think about this Matt."
The cop paused in his fumbling, pulled away from Jayden slightly. Jayden could see the drunken haze clearing from the younger man's eyes, see him register the blood trickling from Jayden's ear and onto his collar, register the red skin of Jayden's face and throat, Jayden's torn shirt. He released Jayden.
Caught off guard Jayden dropped to the floor ass first. Andrews turned away from him and began to sob silently. Jayden felt sick adrenaline curse through him again, the thunder of his racing heartbeat nearly deafening him he got to his feet, mechanically tucked his shirt in and straightened his jacket before bursting from the restroom and heading straight back to his temporary office. He made it ten feet before he dropped to his knees and emptied coffee soaked bile into a convenient trash can.
He felt hands on his back, small and light, caught a vague subtle floral scent over the sour corrosion of his vomit, jerked away from the stranger's touch.
"Jayden are you okay?" Davis asked he looked sideways and caught sight of her crouched at his side.
"M'fine." He grunted and hauled himself up with the assistance of a nearby desk, picked up the can and started back toward the restroom to clean it out. He was almost there when Andrews left, Jayden locked eyes with him and then the world went sideways.
"Got a bus on the way." Someone said.
Jayden opened his eyes and looked up into Davis' face.
"I told you to eat something." She said grimly.
He felt rage then, sour, hot, indiscriminate rage. He had been trying to take a break, get something to eat maybe catch a nap and review their findings with a clear head. He hadn't asked to be attacked, to nearly get raped…
"I don't need a damn ambulance." He croaked.
"Bullshit, you must have hit your head when you went down; you're bleeding from one ear."
"It's just a ruptured ear drum." He half heard himself say. Was it though? Andrews had hit him pretty goddamned hard, a head injury followed by nausea and a collapse... maybe it was more than a ruptured eardrum.
"Procedure is you get checked out, stop arguing."
Jayden found he didn't feel like putting up much of a fight anymore. The EMTs arrived and wheeled him out. Davis came along, to his relief Andrews was nowhere in sight.
"Okay Agent I'm Doctor Iwinski." A red haired beauty told him after he'd been rushed through the E.R. and it appeared he wasn't in imminent danger of death.
"Good to meet you, can I go?"
"You told the EMTs and admitting that you were working late went to use the restroom then became dizzy, threw up and collapse?"
"I want you to understand how doctor patient confidentiality works Agent. Anything you tell me is absolutely between us until and unless you tell me otherwise. Now, I'm not accusing you or anyone else of anything but the results of your tests and the injuries reported by the admitting team don't match your story. Is there anything you want to tell me?"
Jayden looked at her hard. What was he supposed to say? He was a ten year agent who'd let himself get jumped and nearly raped by a baby faced local cop? That he hadn't overworked himself that he'd nearly had his brains bashed in and been helpless to stop it? That the only thing that had kept him from being raped was his fast tongue? That he had …responded… to the assault? All Andrews would have to say was Jayden got half a hard on and any case would be dismissed as a false report or workplace harassment.
"No." He said stiffly.
"Would you prefer to talk to a male physician?"
He felt himself blush furiously.
"No." He snarled.
"I am fine Doctor Iwinski, can I go now?"
"No, you sustained a head injury and have a concussion. We're keeping you here for observation. There's also bruising and irritation to your throat and torso, signs indicative of an attack. Were you assaulted Agent?"
Jayden felt the nausea return, saw Andrews' sneer as he pinned Jayden to the sink, smelled his sweat and the coffee booze reek of his breath. He closed his eyes, felt tears squeeze out anyway, hot on his cheeks turned his face from hers.
"It doesn't matter."
"Agent it does."
"Look I get that you're trying to help and…I respect that but … look write up what you need to, I don't care, take samples or whatever but I'm not filing any reports or making any accusations. Come to your own conclusions."
"With your permission I would like to conduct a rape kit we can submit it anonymously. Your file is privileged only you can make a formal complaint but the evidence won't be lost. You have seven years to file Agent. I can't tell you how many survivors regret not reporting their attacks."
"Fine." He heard himself say it and couldn't believe he had. The last thing he wanted was a paper trail. He cut through red tape and privilege every day with ARI and federal clout on his side. Technically she was right but if the evidence and information wasn't going to be used in a trial there were ways to get to it.
He didn't retract his agreement though. He was going to be in the hospital for twenty-four hours anyway. He managed to get a message to Davis asking her to come by when she was allowed to so he could let her know what he had found and transfer ARI privileges to her.
The exam was humiliatingly thorough. He showered when it was over, the bathroom in his shared room was tiny but the water was hot and the soap harsh. He scrubbed four times before he turned off the water.
"Hey, Iwinski said you'd be ready for visitors by now." Davis said nervously.
"How's your head?"
"Fine they've got me on painkillers, just want to keep an eye on me in case I take another header.
"You've got a helluva bruise coming up." She said with a frown. He looked away from her for a moment, got back into the provided bed and felt his aches and bruises settle down and meld with his exhaustion.
"I thought you fell on your right side." Davis said, Jayden opened his eyes and looked hard at her.
"I have a line on one of the survivors. " He said sitting up and gesturing at his suit coat.
"Al and Freely have submitted their reports, all but one of the potential victims agreed to come in."
"Lemme guess the last is one Edie Willis?"
"Yeah is she your suspect?"
"She's the only one I could rule out for all of the nights they went missing."
"What do you mean?"
"All the other potential victims only had partial alibis for those Mondays. But Willis had an alibi for all of them, a suspiciously precise one but it was different each time. The first Monday she was returning an item at the local Wal Mart, she was on camera waiting in line and arguing with the clerk for nearly an hour. The next Monday she was on camera getting as two counties away. The third Monday she ran a red light with a ticketing camera one town over in the middle of the time she would have had to be kidnapping the victim. Last Monday she was on camera again at a boutique grocery store and her credit card was used to make a payment."
"Then how can she be the killer?"
"Put the glasses on." He said and gestured at the ARI glasses in her hand and winced as the movement rocked his head.
"ARI, Load presentation Willis one, run."
As Davis watched ARI showed the footage from each incident including a mathematical model of the height and weight of the person in the video. In each instance only partial views of Willis were available, never a face on shot, in three of the four she wore a hat and sunglasses. At the end of the videos ARI produced the picture from Willis' student I.D. and driver's license as well as the dimensions on the card.
"Okay, now, it's possible that she lied on her license or never updated it which could account for the twenty or so pound weight difference, but no one gets shorter then magically the right height again. There's a four inch height difference between Willis and the footage.
"Let me guess, Powers is four inches shorter than Willis?" Davis asked pulling the glasses off.
"Yeah, go get her, but be careful she'll be expecting you, she'll have a plan in place and will almost certainly die rather than go in peacefully she'll sacrifice Powers to get away if she can." He said and yawned.
Davis was studying him closely.
"You're a pain in the ass but I get it now. Get some rest I'll keep you in the loop."
"Sure." He sighed.
She hesitated before leaving, eyes tracing the bruise on his face, the suspiciously hand shaped bruise and the broad bruise on his throat then she left.
Jayden allowed himself to sleep then, only to be woken hourly by nursing staff checking to make sure he wasn't bleeding into his brain. He didn't mind, they usually woke him before the dream went sour.
Finally he gave up on sleep and settled for channel surfing and calling Davis and Freely's cells every twenty minutes. He had given up on harassing Al after getting his head bitten off on the second call and going straight to voice mail on the third.
"Okay if you feel up to it you're clear to be released Agent." Iwinski said coming into his room what felt like a week after he had arrived.
"How do you feel?"
"Stiff, sore, headache but I'll live."
"Agent you should consider some counseling it doesn't have to be on the books I can give you some names and organizations. You aren't the first or only male in law enforcement to endure something like this. You aren't alone."
"I'll be fine Doctor, thank you. Right now I have to catch a serial killer before she hurts more people."
"Be careful Agent." Iwinski sighed. Jayden saw her slip a business card into his suit coat as he straightened his tie. Davis had brought him his go bag on her second visit so he at least had fresh clothes.
He ignored the card as he shrugged the coat on and left the room.
"Davis I'm out meet me out front." He grunted into his phone and made his way through the crowded hospital to the exit. It wasn't until he was in the elevator and its gleaming steel doors closed creating a mirrored surface right in front of his face that he saw what Andrews had done to him. A colorful hand shaped bruise partially obscured by his hair marred the left side of his face, his neck looked like he had survived a suicide attempt or a battle with a boa constrictor. Mechanically he raised a hand to the mirrored image and rested his fingertips against the face.
Edie Willis had not been at her home or work when they arrived. It looked like she had stepped out to run an errand. Her purse and car were gone but her bank account had not been touched and her credit cards were unused and had remained unused since the first raid.
"Do you think Powers tipped her off?" Davis asked as he got in.
"I don't know, it's possible, or she may have planned to run as soon as we removed her victim pool." Jayden sighed.
"Look Norman we'll get her, everyone in the country is looking for her and Powers, even Interpol has been alerted."
"Sure we'll get her, when she wants us to."
"Well then what would you suggest?" she snapped.
"I'm sorry I wasn't criticizing you. She planned for this, my guess is we won't see her again until she wants to be caught or we find her body or Powers'."
"You think she'll kill him?"
"She almost certainly already has." Jayden sighed.
Silence fell in the car for a few moments.
"Where are we going?"
"Her house. I thought you should get a look at it."
"Right, good thinking."
"You still have ARI?"
"Yeah, sorry I uh didn't realize you weren't cleared for it."
"Don't worry about it, your presentation was intense, I had a headache for most of the rest of the day. I'm glad I'm not in the program. Did you have trouble adjusting?"
Norman thought about the headaches, double vision, and shaking hands. The weeks of adjusting ARI and adjusting to ARI, the still lingering side effects from marathon sessions.
"Some, they try to tailor the unit to the user to minimize side effects."
Jayden was out of the car and heading up the walkway to Willis' condo before Davis had the car shut off.
"Jayden wait." Davis said sharply. Jayden paused and turned to her frowning.
"Look, I … I meant to say this earlier but I wasn't sure how you might react. Officer Andrews –" Jayden flinched at the name, it was a controlled barely perceptible reaction but for him it was as good as a scream "- he…resigned yesterday. He wasn't specific but the rumor mill is saying he…attacked you."
"And?" Jayden asked stiffly.
"There's a lot of confusion and some hurt feelings from the local P.D. I don't want you to be alone, ever, I wish to Christ these assholes would focus on catching Willis but some of them aren't taking Andrews' resignation well."
"Fantastic." Jayden sighed and rubbed his forehead.
"I'll have your back, the brass and front line leadership are on notice. I don't know what happened but it's pretty clear from your bruises that you didn't just overwork yourself and collapse from exhaustion."
He gave her a lizard stare and a blank face.
"Fine it's your decision but I'm here if you change your mind."
He nodded tightly, put the ARI glasses on, slipped the glove on and whispered something Davis didn't quite catch then entered the condo.
There were two officers guarding it. One inside the front door another near the back sliding glass door. Crime tape and fingerprint dust were festooned like party favors. Jayden stared down the two cops, one had sergeant's stripes the other was old enough to be well into his twenty years, both met his gaze calmly. Reassured he wouldn't be getting shit from them he focused on ARI. The system was scanning for anything the CSU team had missed. He took his time letting ARI do its thing while he looked at the layout of the rooms and the behavioral clues.
"How's he doing?" Freely asked.
"He won't confirm anything but it's clear he was hit by someone. Andrews is big enough to have done it."
"Why won't he press charges?"
"His record is questionable besides Andrews has already resigned."
"I think there's more to it."
"Probably but what good will pushing him do?"
"You can't let shit fester Sam, it never ends well."
"You trying to tell me you have a dark secret past Al?"
"No, I don't but I've seen the damage secrets create."
"It's his life."
"Sure but what about the lives that depend on him?"
"We know Willis had a relationship of some kind with Powers, probably from grade school where she and the others first met. " Jayden mused.
"You think the first trigger occurred then?" Davis asked.
"Something traumatic or memorable, something that bound Willis and Powers, created a bond between them. Did Al find anything at the school?"
"All existing files from that era are being couriered here, they should arrive in a couple hours."
"Let's hope they kept the files on Willis, Powers, and the victims. Once we know how they're bound we can start unraveling the bond. If Powers is still alive we may be able to convince him to turn on her if we have the right information. It might even be possible to shame or guilt Willis into standing down and coming in."
"Well she's either a highly organized sociopath, a delusional psychopath or something along the spectrum, not all serial killers are soulless slaughter machines, she may be deeply emotionally disturbed but still somewhat rational. If we can bring her in alive we might be able to help her and help the victim's families gain some kind of closure."
"I didn't know you cared." Davis said thoughtfully.
"I want to stop these people, capture them, stop the killing but I don't want them dead. Some of them are victims who've reacted to their situations in the only way they know how. Most are monsters but either way it's not my job to end their lives."
"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
Jayden looked confused for a moment then placed the quote and smiled, wincing as the movement stretched the bruised skin of his face.
"The Fellowship of the Ring." He said.
"Right, and you and Gandalf are right as well, most of the people I meet working cases like this get sucked into it, all they can see is the killing and the hunt and the only way they can conceive of an end to it is more death."
"Maybe, I think it just simplifies things to make it all black and white, makes it easier to sleep at night."
"So instead of caving to bloodlust you keep people at a distance and empathize with the killers?" She asked softly. He looked at her through the ARI overly and felt his eyes burn. She looked at him with such sadness.
"It makes me a better profiler." He said in a near-whisper and focused on ARI again.
She moved further into the house.
He felt soul-seared, raked over hot coals for three days, stressed to breaking. His eyes burned from still unshed tears maybe or exhaustion or too-much ARI, he ached and still felt used and wounded by Andrews. He just wanted to sleep for a thousand years but he had to catch Willis and stop the killing first.
So he did the job, walked the house picked up on ARI's clues – all useless – and tried to pry his way into Willis' and Powers' heads.
"Powers is a homebody, if he leaves his parent's home he's going to become increasingly agitated he's a creature of routine. If Willis hasn't killed him yet she's going to have her hands full."
"You said it was almost certain she had killed him."
"It is." He said levelly and removed ARI.
"We're running on empty Davis, I'll be honest, right now we need more information or a lucky break otherwise she's going to go to ground and never come up again."
"Does she have the resources for that?"
"We have all of her accounts and Powers' locked down."
Davis' phone range.
"Yeah, okay we're on the way."
"Files are here, Freely and Al are going through them now."
"Good let's go."
Jayden's phone rang as they were halfway back to the station.
"Hey it's Al, listen, when Powers and Willis were in the fourth grade there was some kinda incident at the school. The four victims and two others have some kinda note on their files about being referred to a counselor, it wasn't the school counselor though it was someone with Child Services."
"I'm putting you on speaker, so that wasn't the normal protocol?"
"No we got files for other kids here too, some were showing signs of abuse, learning problems, the usual stuff they all went to the regular counselor."
"Is there anything about the incident?"
"Nothing direct, no statements or explanations just a note about the date and the referrals."
"What about Willis and Powers?"
"Just a note in their files and weekly sessions with the school counselor afterwards."
"Do we have those files?" Davis asked.
"Still looking but I'm thinkin' no, this whole thing stinks of a cover up."
"Good work Al call the D.A. and CPS for the county see if you can get anything from the hardcopies, what's the date of the incident?"
Al relayed it and Jayden entered a search into ARI for news clippings and public access information banks regarding anything related to that school, the suspects, victims, and the age group in question.
He waited a few seconds then started reviewing ARI's hits.
"Oh shit." He breathed.
"What?" Davis demanded.
"There was an article in the local paper two days after the date Al gave us. An anonymous source reported that two students at the local grammar school had been stripped naked and assaulted by a gang of classmates. "
"Willis and Powers."
"Yeah." Jayden said feeling sick.
"The article is skimpy on details but it does note the victims were poor and the ring leaders from rich families. "
"So the mob ringleaders were probably protected by school officials and the victims were handed off to the school counselor."
"So Powers is sent to his grandparents, his parents move here and when he's a teen he moves back in with them and doesn't leave. Years later his classmates show up along with Willis and all hell breaks loose."
"Sure but how did those kids end up going to this school? "
"Ask ARI." Davis said grimly.
So Jayden did. Thanks to previous warrants and subpoenas he had free access to the school records.
"Willis worked at the school until two months ago. She worked in the financial aid office and sat on a scholarship board."
"So she could have manipulated the funding the targets received, hell a scholarship or loan approval could make the difference between college and no college for a poor student."
"Yes but the ring leaders of the attack were from rich families."
"Yeah but that was before financial the collapses in '01 and '08 if mumsy and dadsy had the wrong financial set up then these kids could be begging for financial aid."
Jayden added that parameter to his search, the four victims fell into line along with a fifth from the victim pool.
"ARI, update on the location of Sullivan Hart."
"Sullivan Hart?" Davis asked changing lanes and increasing her speed.
"The fifth potential victim. Just like the other four her parents were wealthy but lost almost everything in the housing crises, she was enrolled at the college but returned to her parent's home – in state – when the warning went out. She's in protective custody now."
"So Willis is probably after her with or without Powers."
"Right, we need to find out about that incident and bring Sullivan to the station. If Willis wants her she's going to have to come through us." Davis said firmly.
Jayden felt a cold sweat spring up at the thought of the station but banished it savagely. Andrews would wait, the whole damn thing could wait.
By the time they got back to the station Al had pinned down a retired counselor from the school and gotten the whole story.
Seven children had targeted Willis and Powers. The two had been forced to strip naked then bound together and assaulted with sticks and stones and left overnight. Only when one of the children –wracked with guilt – had confessed did anyone start looking for Willis and Powers. The ringleaders had been the children of prominent families. A few large donations to the school district and the local police department and some favors had hushed the whole thing up.
"Who was the main ringleader Al, there's always one." Jayden asked sharply.
"I'm getting to that, it's the little princess Sullivan Hart."
"That's why she's the last victim the first four were easy they were the underlings, the other two never came to this school but Sullivan was the ringleader the one with the power, Willis had to psych herself up to go after Sullivan."
"She's on the way in now should be about a half hour." Freely said straightening from the table in the conference room and massaging her neck.
"When she comes in I want Freely and Davis to get her situated. If we can get her to admit to what she and the others did we can use that with Willis." Jayden said tiredly.
"Are you okay?" Al asked as the women left to greet the arriving agents with Hart.
"Yeah I'll live." Jayden said dismissively.
"Not what I asked, look we all get that you're hot shit, we see that now so you don't have to kill yourself over this. You look like hell, that prick got you good."
Jayden stiffened at Al's accusation.
"I'll be fine Agent Frhanakian."
"Oh don't pull that shit on me, don't get all formal now. Look I would be within my rights to report you and request you be pulled from the field you're a mess. So put me at ease Jayden or I will report you."
"I –" Nearly got raped, say it Norman you'll feel better, "I'm fine. The hospital released me, I got some sleep and food while I was down, and we just need to focus on Willis for now okay? Honestly Al if you think I'm going to lose it pull me but I can get Willis, right now we don't have a damn thing aside from coincidence on her, we don't even have anything circumstantial unless we can directly link her to the aid packages that encouraged her victims to apply to the school. We have nothing. Without a confession she's going to walk."
"Fine but Jayden seriously you need to talk to someone, I don't know what happened but you look like you got worked over and that kid Andrews resigning out of the blue…we aren't stupid and it's your prerogative but think about the ramifications okay?"
Jayden didn't reply just replaced his glasses and returned to ARI.
Edie Willis, twenty-four years old, successful bright young woman. Her file with the school was peppered with praise and commendations, he examined the letters of recommendation she had received and filed, all were from professors and persons in power no peer or coworker comments. So she was good at being head of the class but her peers, the people who dealt with her one on one on a daily basis saw through her.
"Jayden, she's here."
"Good take her into a free interview room let Davis and Freely soften her up, tell them to take whatever approach they want."
"I'm sorry, about before, you…you had some good points, I'm sorry I was an asshole you were only trying to help."
"Forget it Jayden if it hadn't happened on the job I'd've kept my trap shut." Al said with a half shrug and left.
Jayden gave it fifteen minutes then went to the observation room to watch Freely and Davis talk to Sullivan Hart.
"So we hear you were a big deal back in school? Popular?"
"I did well among my group." Sullivan said smoothly. Her family may have lost most of their money but you would never guessed it from her behavior. Her knock off designer clothes and bag might give it away though.
"I was popular in highschool too, I played sports, volunteered with the student council how about you?" Davis said with apparently real interest.
"Cheerleading and debate."
"Did you letter? She says she lettered." Freely sighed looking bored and annoyed.
"Uh yes actually I did."
"Okay but what about after highschool? I mean hell once you leave highschool everything changes right? You go to college, new school, new friends, new hierarchy." Freely grunted.
"I did fine in college." Sullivan said softly.
Jayden smiled and decided the time was right.
"Ms. Hart my name is Norman Jayden." He said bursting into the room with a file box under his arm. He set it on the table and nodded at the women.
"Agent Davis there's a call from Quantico holding for you. I apologize for interrupting." Jayden said neutrally. Davis took the cue and left leaving Jayden alone with Hart and Freely.
"Agent Freely tells me you were a bitch in school, is that true?"
"A bitch? I am not a bitch –" Sullivan snarled getting to her feet and lashing out at Freely. Jayden caught her wrist and shoved her back in her seat.
"Agent do you wish to press charges for attempted assault on a federal agent?" Jayden asked sharply.
"I think we'll give her a second chance Agent Jayden." Freely smirked. It was a bullshit charge that wouldn't hold for thirty seconds but Sullivan either didn't know, didn't care, or was too stupid to push the issue.
"Wh-what do you want? I thought you were looking for the psycho killer on campus."
"We are. In fact we're pretty sure we know who it is."
"An old close personal friend of yours as it turns out." Freely hissed.
Sullivan looked genuinely confused.
"You know what's weird about college? Running into people you used to know. You know how it is you meet a bunch of friends in grade school then you go to junior high or middle school and you're all split up then you hit high school and you're split up again but you keep meeting new people and making new friends along the way. Then comes college and if you don't go too far you find yourself in classes with people you used to know back when. Did that happen to you Sullivan?"
"What? I guess so I don't know what are you talking about?"
"Which is it? You don't know or you guess so? Did you run into any old friends when you started going to college here?"
"I…well yeah but not friends, people I used to know."
"People like Edie Willis and Jason Powers?" Freely snapped.
"Yeah I saw them around but they aren't my friends, they were never my friends."
"Of course they weren't Sullivan, friends don't do terrible things to friends, they don't do things like what you did to Edie and Jason."
"What are you talking about?" She demanded getting to her feet. Freely rose with her.
"Sit your narrow ass down unless you want to be charged Ms. Sullivan." Freely barked. Sullivan sat immediately.
"Tell us about Edie and Jason, about what you did to them, what you made the others do."
"I don't know what you're talking about –"
"So you went to a CPS counselor for your entire highschool career for what? Therapy? Kid like you, parents like yours they couldn't afford a real therapist?"
Sullivan started to cry.
"Oh don't try that with me Ms. Hart I don't care if you're scared or upset, I don't care about you at all Ms. Hart, all I care about are the dead people cluttering up my desk Sullivan! Now tell me what happened that October."
"I…it got out of hand! We were just tired of them tagging along we wanted to convince them to leave us alone!"
"So you forced them to strip naked? Who does that Sullivan? What kind of monster orders children to strip? What kind of sick monster does that?"
Sullivan was sobbing now.
"I'm sorry! I didn't …. It got out of hand we went too far!"
"You're right you did Sullivan, you kidnapped and assaulted two children Sullivan."
"God I didn't mean for that to happen we just…they stripped and then …it was like a feeding frenzy everyone kept shouting things and Amy had a jumprope so we ….oh god… we tied them up and…. And…" she dissolved into tears then.
Jayden rose from the desk and Freely got to her feet and turned off the camera recording the interview. Jayden took the tape Freely offered him.
"What you did Sullivan, what you let happen, it twisted them. Jason can barely interact with anyone he's a hermit living in the past trapped in a life you handed him. And Edie? Well, Edie is kidnapping and slaughtering your former friends. So congratulations Sullivan, top of the class hope you're proud of what you've achieved." He snapped and walked out.
"Jayden hey hold on." Davis said emerging from the observation room.
"What?" He snapped.
"Think you went a little hard there at the end?"
"No, I don't." He said coldly.
Davis sighed and let him go.
"Any sign of Edie?" Jayden asked Al.
"It's Edie now?" Al asked. Jayden glared.
"No, believe me you'll know if we do."
Jayden returned to his office still holding the tape and sat down. He didn't put the ARI glasses on. He just sat, then closed his eyes and tried to think.
Where would Edie go? Where would she hide? They hadn't found any hidden assets or nest eggs, her accounts were locked down all she had was what little cash she had withdrawn from her account and her car.
Back home, he thought coldly, she would go back to the beginning and she would kill Powers and then herself. His eyes snapped open and he looked at the clock on the wall. They would be too late, he realized, it had been hours since Edie had been tipped off.
He hurried from the office back to the conference room.
"Al, gather the team and Sullivan we're going back to their home town, back to where it happened."
"Willis and Powers will be there."
"Why do want Sullivan?"
"If Willis hasn't killed Powers then we can use her as bait to talk Willis down."
"Okay let's go."
They took a chopper, the flight was just over an hour and as they approached the little town's football field to land Jayden felt a numb finality settle over him. Jason would be dead, he was certain of that and he was almost certain that Edie would have killed herself by then as well.
The group exited the chopper, Davis and Freely keeping Sullivan under control Al took the rear and waved the chopper off as two local p.d. cruisers arrived.
"Sullivan, where did it happen?" Jayden asked firmly.
"In a field behind the school, there were some woods at one end and a hill we would go to the hill to meet up we all knew it."
"Officers does that sound familiar?" Jayden half shouted as the noise of the chopper began to fade.
"Yeah it's still there." The oldest of cops said.
"You must be –"
"Chief Grayden, listen Agent, this here is my entire department if you need more people –"
"Thank you Chief we have back up on the way but my team should be able to handle it, we would appreciate a ride and an escort.
"Right away Agent."
The field was, in fact, still there, which surprised Jayden considering how suburban sprawl had devoured so much open land over the last twenty-some years. It was beautiful grass field that swept down to a low point and then transitioned into woods that ended on a rise at the horizon.
"Freely, keep Sullivan with you give us three minutes after we enter the woods and follow us with the officers."
"If I hear shots?" She asked wryly. He snorted at her feeling his adrenaline kicking in, a clean surge of power and clarity almost wholly unlike the sour panicked adrenaline surge he'd endured at the hands of Andrews.
He drew his sidearm and started across the field. Davis and Al followed with the chief and another officer. Jayden was grateful for the backup.
"Chief do you know this ground?" He asked.
"Do you want lead?"
"No, the sightline is clear and level till yeah hit the trees, there's plenty of cover for an approach but it's clear."
"Understood, let's get in there and finish this." Jayden sighed.
"You don't see a happy ending here d'yeah Agent Jayden?" The chief asked.
"No sir, not particularly."
They entered the woods and a hush fell over the world, the soft sussuration of spring leaves stirred by the lazy afternoon wind filled the air, the gentle ancient creak of limbs scraping together and the far off muffled cry of a bird.
Jayden gestured for silence and kept them moving. The soft sound of a crying woman drifted through the woodland calm. Jayden hesitated for a heartbeat then kept moving. At the crest of the hill they saw Edie. She was sitting cross legged with something in her lap. The sun shone through the trees around her haloing her in shafts of afternoon light, golden and delicate. Her brown hair lit red by the sun, pale skin marked with lines of exhaustion, dirt, and tears. Jayden gestured for the others to hang back and slowly approached her.
As he climbed the hill he saw she was cradling Jason's upper body in her lap, a revolver in one hand.
"Stop!" She said through her tears.
"That's what I'm here to do Edie. I'm here to stop it."
"No! No you want to punish me you don't know what they did … they deserved it!"
"Edie, I know, I know what Sullivan and the others made you do, I know the terrible things they did to you, I know Edie, I do and you know what? I know that they got away with it. It was hushed up. They hurt you but all the grownups told you to forget about it right? They said you were lying or making it up and they punished you and not them, right Edie?"
"Yes! They said we were little liars and little liars came to no good!"
"I know Eide, I know and I want to help you I do can I come closer? He looks heavy Edie can I help you hold Jason?" He asked edging further up the hill.
"No!" She sobbed and raised the revolver.
"Whoa whoa Edie, my friends are here okay? They're down there and they want to help but they're worried you might hurt me okay? So just lower the gun okay? Lower the gun and we can talk. We can make it stop."
"Jason…he was never the same you know? He was always afraid and he would cry sometimes all night long his…his parents couldn't take it they thought a new school would make it better so they sent him away… away from me…"
"Edie, it's okay right? You found Jason, you found Jason and you made them pay and now, now it can all stop."
"No no it will never be over." She sobbed and lowered her head.
"Edie, listen to me, my name is Norman and I'm an FBI agent and Edie, I know what happened I do, do you want to know how I know?"
She sniffled and looked up at him through half mad red rimmed eyes.
"Because she told me Edie, Sullivan told me."
"Sullivan…she…she's here? Now?"
"Yes she is Edie she's here but you can't talk to her until you give me your gun, just give me your gun and my friends won't be afraid for me. We can talk to Sullivan then and it will all stop, okay?"
He could almost touch her now, held his weapon low almost out of sight.
"Yes I'm Norman Edie I'm here to help you stop it, I know what Sullivan and the other bad kids did to you. Just give me your gun Edie and it will all stop."
She looked up at him, eyes reminding him of a fatally injured deer he had seen die at the side of a road as a boy all wide and liquid. Then he heard the gun hit the ground. He knelt in front of her, picked up the gun and tossed it down the hill toward his team.
"That's really good Edie you did really well now can I check on Jason?" she didn't respond so he reached forward and pressed his fingers to Jason's throat. Jayden felt a pulse.
"He…couldn't sleep he can never sleep so I gave him some medicine. "
"Okay Edie you did fine can you stand up for me?" She slid Jason off her lap, Jayden gently gripped her right forearm and rose with her.
"It's over now Edie, it's all over okay?" He soothed as he slipped his handcuffs over her frail wrist and gently pulled her arms behind her back slipped the other cuff into place.
As he finished cuffing her the rest of the agents and officers raced up the hill and took her into custody. He heard Al's gruff voice reciting the Miranda warning to her.
"Hey that was…wow." Davis said. Two of the local officers were crouching by Jason. Jayden watched as they called for a chopper evac.
"No more corpses today." Jayden whispered and felt his knees buckle.
"Whoa hey." Davis said kneeling next to him and keeping him from falling over.
"Jesus Christ I need a drink." He sighed weakly.
Davis laughed and slipped her jacket off pulled it around him and rubbed his back.
"I think we can arrange that but first you need food and sleep."
"I think there's about a foot of paperwork to file first." Jayden said weakly and laughed. He was okay as the on-scene EMTs checked both he and Edie out and cleared them. He was okay writing up his report and statement and filing the immediate paperwork prior to his flight back. He was okay at the station saying his farewells to the team and he was even okay going to the airport with Davis. They had tickets next to each other back to DC and he was okay with that, had gotten to enjoy her company in fact.
It wasn't until he fell asleep on the plane and woke up screaming seeing Andrews' face in front of him, smelling the stench of coffee and booze, feeling his hands on him, that things went wrong.
"Jayden! Shhhh you're okay, you're safe, calm down." Davis soothed as he flopped back in his chair throat raw from his scream, skin sweaty and eyes wild. The passengers around them looked horrified and angry.
"Federal agents folks everything is under control." Davis said and flashed her winning smile.
Jayden slowly got a grip on himself, a flight attendant came by with a bottle of cold water and a hot towel.
"Are you folks okay?" He asked carefully as he handed the water and towel over.
"Have you heard about the serial killer in –"
"The college thing?"
"We just caught the killer, he's been up for most of four days."
"Oh, oh gosh I'm so sorry let us know if you need anything at all, and thank you Agents." He said sincerely. Jayden felt like punching him in the face or screaming again but settled for closing his eyes, wiping his face and hands with the towel and drinking the water.
"Jayden you need to tell me what the hell happened to you –"
"You're required to report illegal activity Davis. You can't hear a report of a crime and not report it."
"So Andrews did assault you." Davis sighed.
Jayden flinched at the word assault but didn't elaborate.
"Jayden talk to me as a friend then, not as a fellow agent, please come on you just freaked out a plane full of civilians."
"Andrews went for me, I defended myself, Doctor Iwinski cleared me for duty, end of story."
"Jayden-" she took his hand in her own and he jerked away violently –"Jesus christ Jayden …oh god." She whispered angry at first at his reaction and then horrified as the pieces fell into place.
"Davis if you want to help me you will keep your damn mouth shut. I can handle this but if you start talking what little reputation I have left is going out the window."
"Look I know –"
"It might be the 21st century Davis but we both know the Bureau isn't prepared for something like this. If I had been taken prisoner and…well that would be clear cut right? But like this? My word against his? The rumors he spread? The delay in reporting?"
"Did you do a kit?"
He felt sick again and wished he had more water to take the sour taste from his mouth.
"Good when you come to your senses there will be evidence anyway."
"Of an assault Davis, because that's as far as it got. Look, Andrews resigned from the force its finished, end of story."
Davis opened her mouth to argue again but he glared at her and wriggled into his seat, closed his eyes and tried to sleep again.
Three weeks later he was ordered on a medical leave after failing his psych exam to clear him back to the field.
"Agent Jayden this isn't a career killing event."
"Seriously? You did not just say that. Ever supervisor I have from now until doomsday is going to see this gap in my assignments and want an explanation, soon as they read it's medical three weeks after a successful case they're going to realize I cracked up and no one wants a head case on their team. No one."
"Agent Jayden per your supervisor's request your file will still show you assigned to the ARI program for the period of your convalescence." The psychiatrist said stiffly.
"Oh shit of course it was, what the hell was I thinking, no way they would want ARI spoiled by one nutcase agent." Jayden sneered and rose from his cushy chair.
"Agent Jayden the point of this isn't that you're a headcase, damaged goods, or a liability. If you were no one would have gone to this much trouble. The point is that you are worth salvaging and we are going to do whatever we can to help you get through this."
"This? And what is this anyway?"
"You're exhibiting signs of PTSD and extreme paranoia."
"Sure I am."
"Agent Jayden you assaulted a fellow ARI candidate after the man brushed a piece of lint off the front of your suit jacket, you nearly broke his jaw, with any other agent in any other program you would have been suspended or ejected from the Bureau for that."
"So I'm such a special little agent they're going to bend the rules to keep me?"
"No, because your companions on the Howards case indicated there was some kind of incident between yourself and a local officer. You received a blow to the head and a resulting concussion while the officer resigned and neither of you admitted anything officially or made any kind of statement."
"And I'm not going to now." Jayden said and actually stuck his jaw out like an over tired three year old.
"Then feel free to leave your credentials at the door on your way out." The psychiatrist, a middle aged dark skinned man with kind brown eyes and graying closely cropped hair, said evenly.
"There's nothing to tell." Jayden sighed still pacing.
"That's not true Agent please don't try to lie to me or prevaricate I'm an old hand at this."
"Goddamnit, Andrews …. There was nothing to it he threw a punch but I talked him down."
"Agent I understand this is a sensitive topic though I am uncertain as to the specifics of why but a police officer with four years on a force does not resign out of the blue with no explanation. Not in this economy son."
"How does confidentiality work with you?"
"You are my patient, I'm paid by the Bureau but I cannot share anything we discuss here unless you say so, or you make it clear that you're a danger to yourself or others."
"Good to know." Jayden said sourly and retook his seat across from the doctor.
"Tell me about the case."
"You have the file."
"Sure but it's dry, lacks details."
"You have the others' reports."
"Norman, I'd like to hear what happened in your words."
"Nothing remarkable we came in after the fourth death and stopped the fifth, captured the killer and her associate alive."
"And officer Andrews resigned and you landed in the hospital under observation for twenty-four hours."
"Why should I tell you what happened? Aside from keeping my job and not soiling ARI what good will it do?"
"It may give you a chance to heal , to make a proper recovery."
"Fuck." Jayden said and got to his feet again. He walked to a window and looked down at a manicured lawn.
"I… I went to interview a potential witness. One of the officers watching the location made a half pass at me. I ignored him. When I got back to the station I told him to knock it off I was there for the case. He…"
The psychiatrist waited with a sense of inflappable calm. Jayden shook his head and folded his arms across his chest.
"Agent Davis told me he was telling the other officers that I made a pass at him and he shot me down. Davis warned me to keep things professional and civil because I might have to rely on the locals for backup."
Jayden looked away from the window and glared at the doctor.
"Yes, I did. But he…he followed me into the men's room and…" He felt tears hot and heavy blinding him, he turned away from the kind patient expression on the doctor's face.
"We fought, I talked him down, we went our separate ways. I didn't realize how hard he'd hit me until I went down."
"The officer assaulted you."
"Yes, okay? Andrews attacked me and I guess… he felt bad or whatever and resigned."
"Do you know why he attacked you?"
"He was drunk, I could smell it on his breath. I think he was mixing liquor with his coffee."
"Was that the only reason?"
"How the fuck should I know?" Jayden snapped tears falling, landing on his sleeves and the backs of his hands still wrapped around his chest, hugging him.
"Exactly Norman. You could not have anticipated being attacked, you could not have anticipated his reaction to your rejection. You are a profiler not a psychic and your attentions were rightly focused on stopping a dangerous killer not the feelings of a stranger."
"Can I go now?"
"Yes but I'd like to see you again tomorrow."
"Because there's more you aren't telling me and I don't think you're ready to tell me."
Jayden glared at him and shook his head.
"That's all you get doc."
And it was. For another week he would come to the mandatory session and repeat his story. He finally managed to use Andrews' full name and name him as the rumor monger but that was as far as it went.
"Norman I know there's more you aren't telling me you do too. I know how stubborn you are, your file is full of comments about your determination and tenacity so I'm not sure how much further we can go unless you're willing to trust me with this."
Jayden was sitting on the edge of his seat, hands clasped, chin resting on his fists.
"I can… I can feel it, like…a belch almost. I can feel the pressure of it in my throat, my chest, on the tip of my tongue but I just…I can't."
"Norman you're safe here, I can't tell anyone what you tell me, even if I wanted to. Please."
Jayden opened his mouth closed it, frowned and shook his head once.
"I can't I'm sorry."
"Can I tell you what I think happened? What I think your secret, or part of it is? You can nod or shake your head, would that be okay?"
"I … I can try." Jayden agreed.
"I think that Andrews caught you off guard, he's a young strong officer, and he was trained, drunk, and angry. I think he got the advantage on you in the fight and he tried to go further than that."
Jayden felt the tears again, always the goddamned tears, he jerked his head once in the affirmative.
"He tried to sexually assault you but you managed to reason with him." The healer's voice was gentle, kind, blameless.
Jayden nodded again.
"It isn't your fault Norman, you didn't ask for or encourage his advances, you did your best to defend yourself. He is to blame."
"Oh I don't know about that." Jayden choked and wiped at his cheeks felt a craving for a cigarette, a vice he gave up as a teenager.
"You reacted to him."
"Yeah I'm a big fag in the grand tradition of sexually deviant federal agents."
"Agent Jayden you aren't sexually deviant, you're gay that's not immoral or wrong. It is not unusual for a male to have a sexual reaction in situations involving adrenaline and increased heart rate. Becoming aroused doesn't mean you deserved it or wanted it or encouraged it. It's purely a physical reaction Norman."
"I…fine, good. Can I go back to work now?"
"Yes but I'm going to put you on an anti-anxiety medication. It's something new but I think it will be particularly helpful in your situation. It's a mood stabilizer; it should help you cope with stress while you're healing."
"Fine whatever." Norman said snuffling and still wiping at his face.
"It's inhaled it may be difficult to find but most large pharmacies should carry it."
"Okay can I be reinstated now?"
"Yes, I'll sign off but I want you to stay on the medication and come back in a week. If you have trouble sleeping or any reactions to the medication – headaches, dizziness, nausea – call me immediately."
The doctor handed him the subscription and his card.
"Just in case you lost the others." He said referring to the card.
"Surviving an attack like that is grueling Norman but you're on the road to recovery now."
"Thanks Doc, I'll pick this up on my way home this..."
"Don't you hate doctor's handwriting? It's called Triptocaine."